French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest are over, so New Orleans has to be slowing down, right? Not at all.
Over the next few months, New Orleans is bustling with events, festivals, parties, and carnivals. We all know about the biggies: this month will see the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience pairing the city’s best culinary experiences with some of the world’s best wines for the 23rd year; the Cajun-Zydeco Festival takes over the Old U.S. Mint in June; some of the world’s top musical talent gathers in the Superdome for ESSENCE Festival during July; and White Linen Night brings us a night of white garb and amazing art in August. But as amazing as these events are, they don’t even scratch the surface of what’s going on in town from now through August.
While I can’t possibly cover all the events, I wanted to highlight a few of the lesser-known summer festivals for each month and give you a taste of what’s happening all summer long.
May: Greek Fest and Taste at the Lake
You’ve probably already got your tasteful toga picked out and are jonesing for some loukoumades, baklava, and Ouzo (say that three times fast!) at the annual free Greek Fest along Bayou St. John May 27-29, but did you know that there’s another waterfront fest just two weeks prior?
Before you stuff yourself on gyros and pomegranate tea (or daiquiris), check out Taste at the Lake, which kicks off right down the road from Greek Fest on May 13 from 6:15 to 10:00 p.m. — longer hours than last year!
Taste at the Lake features more than 30 restaurants, wine, and boozy snowballs from Nola Snow Snowballs and, in years past, has featured beer from the Bulldog. The best news is, at Taste at the Lake you won’t have to play favorites or worry about your budget because it is all you can eat and drink (tickets are $42).
As if that wasn’t enough for you to clear your calendar for May 13, Taste at the Lake has booked The Crooked Vines to get you out on the dance floor and ’80s cover band High Voltage to shut the party down. If you can’t rock out to the best songs from one of the best decades of music, then I’m not sure that we can continue to be friends.
Grab tickets for Taste at the Lake here. Please note this event is restricted to ages 21 and up.
June: Creole Tomato Festival and Snake Oil Festival
Celebrating 30 years, the Creole Tomato Festival in the historic French Market isn’t exactly a sleeper festival. But with the famous (and unbelievably delicious) Creole tomatoes hitting their peak during Creole Tomato Festival, the opportunity to eat tomato-centric dishes from great New Orleans restaurants is too good to pass up. While the Creole Tomato Festival celebrates something ubiquitous in modern New Orleans life, the Snake Oil Festival will be celebrating the traveling shows that were ubiquitous in ages gone by.
For three days during June (June 24-26) the Snake Oil Festival will kick up its celebration of the traditional performance disciplines of the sideshow, burlesque, live music, circus, and comedy.
Unlike many festivals, Snake Oil Festival isn’t just a passive vehicle for your enjoyment: you’ve got the opportunity to be a part of it all and learn all about the craft of burlesque, stage development, and sideshow arts through a number of classes and workshops led by nationally known and celebrated masters of the arts.
In its second year, the Snake Oil Festival is looking to build off the resounding successes of last year. The Snake Oil Festival’s “go big or go home” philosophy continues to dominate as this year features 44 different artists or performing groups, attracting talent from all across the county.
This impressive collection of artists includes New Orleans’ own Bella Blue, the Portland based Deadlurk Dollymops, and the fantastically named Bette Machete. A full schedule and tickets are available on the festival’s website.
July: Third of July and Fourth of July
Despite its European roots and attitude, New Orleans is proudly American. So it comes as no surprise that the city goes all out for Fourth of July. And I mean so all out that the American Pyrotechnics Association called the city’s July Fourth celebrations one of the “top five must-see fireworks displays in the U.S.”
When the pros call it awesome, you know that it is. But did you know that all this awesomeness really starts at 7:15 p.m. on the 3rd of July out at City Park? And just like America, this festival is free.
Grab your chairs and blankets and head to the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn for patriotic music, courtesy of the Marine Corps Band, and fireworks. While food and beverages will be available for purchase, you’re invited to bring your own picnic meals and even your dogs (although be sure to keep them on a leash).
If you want to sit near the band, be sure to show up early. However, here’s a super sneaky trick if you’d like a little more space for yourself: instead of sitting on the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn, sit behind the Peristyle on small Goldfish Island. You’ll still be able to hear the band, but there should be fewer people.
August: Southern Decadence and Satchmo Summerfest
The end of August in New Orleans means one thing: it’s time to get decadent.
Southern Decadence, also known as Gay Mardi Gras, is a massive celebration of gay life, music, and culture in New Orleans that is dedicated to preserving the history and traditions of gay celebrations. Of course, no festival that brings in 160,000 party goers can be considered a lesser-known festival, so we’re focusing on the beginning of August and the Satchmo Summerfest.
Now in its 14th year, Satchmo Summerfest is dedicated to the life, legacy, and music of New Orleans-born Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. The festival runs Aug. 5-7, and while this year’s musical line-up hasn’t been announced, earlier years have featured more than 40 different musical groups over two different stages around the old U.S. Mint.
Previous Satchmo Summerfests have brought in acts like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Wycliffe Gordon, and the Satchmo of Japan, Yoshio Toyama, proving that the fest is a great celebration of jazz musicians and brass bands. Of course, one musical act not to miss is Kermit Ruffin’s Trumpet Tribute to Louis, which closes out the festival every year.
Satchmo Summerfest isn’t limited to live music; there is an impressive array of speakers and scholars to discuss the history and traditions of New Orleans jazz and the life of Louis Armstrong occurring all three days. On top of that, Satchmo Summerfest also meets the New Orleans festival requirement of great food.
Although they are still locking down the final food vendors for this year’s event, past years have included some of my favorite fest food stops, such as the Yakiniku po-boy from Ninja Restaurant, the jerk chicken plate from Palmer’s Cuisine, and a variety of sausage po-boys from Vaucresson’s Sausage Co. Tickets for Satchmo Summerfest are $5 per day, with children 12 and under free.